Thompson’s new superintendent, Melinda Smith, submitted her three-month entry plan to Board of Education members recently.
That plan will examine district revenues and costs, the high school curriculum’s alignment with community college courses and programs, curriculum expansion – including online options for students, and the establishment of career pathways for high school students.
Verifying student data information is a top priority. Smith wants to make sure numbers are accurate for students receiving free and reduced lunches, that medicaid reimbursement for special education costs are maximized, and that money spent on outplaced students in Killingly’s Agricultural Education Center, Ellis Tech, Quinebaug Middle College, and other secondary schools is correct.
“We want to be sure we’re maximizing on all state aid coming in,” Smith said.
Smith and the BOE are in a holding pattern until the General Assembly passes a state budget. Nothing but essential supplies have been ordered. Three teachers have not been called back yet. Technology purchases the board hoped to make have been put off until the town knows what the state aid will be.
Smith was superintendent of North Providence for five years prior to her appointment in Thompson. She was in charge of nine schools, 3,500 students, and 525 staff. In Thompson, she will oversee three schools on one campus, 975 students, and approximately 200 staff.
Board of Education Chair William Witkowski said Smith’s experience in curriculum development made her stand out from among 40 applicants.
A committee will develop a three-year phase-in plan to increase offerings of advanced placement courses. That could include virtual options for students.
A survey of student interest in specific careers will be held this fall. The information from that survey will be used to align coursework for career and technical education academies.
Another goal is to examine how the high school curriculum lines up with community college courses. Thompson students can take college level courses before they graduate and earn college credits.
Smith is looking into using the Summit Learning Platform, an online program that would allow students to learn at their own pace and let teachers create customized instruction plans for their students. Smith said the program could change the way a class looks. The teacher becomes a facilitator of learning, Smith said, individualizing instruction depending on student progress.
The Summit Learning Platform offers full curriculum for core content areas and is funded through Facebook monies. Smith is in touch with a team of teachers sent for training from North Providence.
“We’ll put a team together to look at what’s happened in Rhode Island using Summit and see how we can implement it here,” she said.
Several schools in Rhode Island, including Providence, Woonsocket, and North Providence, currently use Summit Learning Programs.
Professional development in the next year will center around mastery based learning. Thompson teachers will work with EastCONN personnel on personalized, blended, and student-directed learning.
Smith said the Thompson position will let her stay close to teaching and learning.
“I like being a manager,” she said. “But I also wanted the opportunity to pop into a class and still be a teacher. Every now and then, I’ll be able to walk down the hall and do just that.”
Witkowski said Smith’s collaborative approach will tap teachers, who are on education’s front lines.
“They know what students have, want and need,” he said. “Who better to be engaged in the research Smith is talking about?”
“We want people to know that the school board and the administrators in every school are always open to hear from the community,” Witkowski said. “We want everyone involved.”